In Our Time - The Social Contract (2008)

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Social Contract and ask a foundational question of political philosophy – by what authority does a government govern? “Man was born free and he is everywhere in chains”. So begins Jean Jacques Rousseau’s great work on the Social Contract. Rousseau was trying to understand why a man would give up his natural freedoms and bind himself to the rule of a prince or a government. But the idea of the social contract - that political authority is held through a contract with those to be ruled - began before Rousseau with the work of John Locke, Hugo Grotius and even Plato. We explore how an idea that burgeoned among the 17th century upheavals of the English civil war and then withered in the face of modern capitalist society still influences our attitude to government today. With Melissa Lane, Senior University Lecturer in History at Cambridge University; Susan James, Professor of Philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London; Karen O’Brien, Professor of English Literature at the University of Warwick. First broadcast in 2008.

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